There is a feeling among many people that the city is built for others, that we may look at it but may not touch it, the spatial equivalent of an artifact in a glass case in a museum. (162)
Explore Everything documents the adventures of Bradley Garrett, an urban explorer and researcher at the University of Oxford, as he delves into the abandoned buildings, infrastructure, and construction sites of London and beyond. Roughly defined as the infiltration of the built environment – typically ruined, abandoned, or places under construction – Garrett claims “urban exploration” existed long before organized communities formed. His experiences in Explore Everything, however, are framed by his time with the organized London urban explorer (UE) community, the “London Consolidation Crew (LCC),” and interactions with the community at large when his blog went viral and London governments began attempting to prosecute their activities.
London Consolidation Crew (LCC)
“By sneaking into places they are not supposed to be, photographing them and sharing those exploits with the world, explorers are recoding people’s normalised relationships to city space. It is both a celebration and a protest.” Beginning with a leisurely stroll through a long abandoned mental hospital outside West Park with explorers that would become pillars of the LCC, Garrett takes us through his experiences “hacking” the underground tube system of London, the iconic “Shard” under construction, and the sewers of Las Vegas. Originally an explorer himself, Garrett applied his academic interests to documenting his experiences with the underground community, the political ramifications of the practice, and the way exploration shifted his own perspective and life. While motivations varied between himself and the explorers described in the book, most claimed the desire for experiencing the city on their own terms, and breaking through restricted areas, as critical objectives. “Through infiltrating the urban environment, explorers assert an equal right to power, space, history, investment, development and knowledge.”
Climbing the Fourth Rail Bridge in Scotland
While completing his doctoral work at the University of Oxford in Urban Geography, Garrett kept a blog of the adventures catalogued in his book. His key objective was to inspire others to participate in their cities, which eventually went viral and was used as evidence in a UK lawsuit filed against urban explorers. Garrett’s adventures were part exploration, tactical urbanism, and anthropological study, which led to a government-fueled crack down on the infiltration of places. “This is the inherent political power behind place hacking: rendering the city more legible, more tangible, for everyone.…Wherever doors are closed, we will find a way through. Wherever history is buried, we will uncover it. Wherever architecture is exclusionary, we will liberate it.” Garrett’s book inspires a broadening of the reader’s horizons when it comes to the city. Beyond the natural implications for urban politics, it also encourages an active life devoid of distraction and “mindless” consumption. Filled with beautiful photographs and his first hand accounts of exploits, the book is a testament to the possibilities for urban life and fulfilling exploration.
How does this affect your perspective of cities? Are there places in your city that inspire your curiosity? Please share these places with us in the comments below.
Explore Everything is a Verso Books publication. The Grid is giving away one FREE copy of the book. Make sure to go to the Rafflecopter Giveaway so you can enter to win your free copy of Explore Everything.
Credits: Images and linked to sources.